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PLCS business overview Date: 2010/04/19 13:25:08
Revision: 1.32

This business overview outlines why the new information standard (ISO 10303-239:2005, PLCS) addressing product life cycle support, recently published by ISO, can reduce costs and improve profits for:

In September 1999 the Harvard Business Review published an article by Richard Wise, Peter Baumgartner encouraging manufacturers, whose margins were under increasing pressure from global competition, to "Go Downstream" to maximize earnings over the life cycle of their products.

OEMOriginal Equipment Manufacturers are ideally placed to exploit after-market opportunities, for instance, in the defence sector, where customer 'pull' now matches supplier 'push' through Government initiatives promoting ever greater involvement of industry in after-market activities, including support to operations and ongoing upgrades. Major drivers for this change include Performance Based Logistics ( contracts, being placed by DoD, and the UK Defence Industrial Strategy ( and the related Through Life Capability Management initiative ( Norway and Sweden are also moving strongly in the same direction.

A key requirement for after-market success is the ability to accurately and efficiently manage the complex information related to product design, operation and support over timescales measured in decades. In 2005 a new information standard – ISO 10303-239ISO 10303-239 Industrial automation systems and integration — Product data representation and exchange Part 239: Application protocol: Product life cycle support, See: and Application ProtocolApplication Protocol - an implementable component of ISO 10303 STEP which specifies an information model to support a specific business domain.: Product Life Cycle Support (PLCS)Product Life Cycle Support The project developing ISO 10303-239. The name of ISO 10303-239 (published by ISO in 2005). was published to address this need. It was developed jointly by a commercial consortium of owner operators, OEMsOriginal Equipment Manufacturer and software vendors, including ministries of Defence from UK, US, Norway, Finland and Sweden; Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Saab and DNV plus PTC, EDS, Baan, IFS, Pennant ATI, Eurostep Limited and the LSC Group. Subsequent work has created standard Data Exchange SpecificationData Exchange Specification - a subset of the ISO 10303-239 PLCS information model, designed to support data exchange for specific activities, providing guidance and rules for how to use and combine the selected entities and external Reference Data in that exchange. Each DEX includes a complete EXPRESS schema. This is a subset of the ISO 10303-239 schema with a derived XML Schema. Both can be used to define and validate a data exchange file. A DEX defined and managed by the OASIS PLCS TC may be referred to as a "PLCS DEX", as opposed to a "Business DEX".s which will greatly facilitate the implementation of PLCS, and hence to realize the benefits described above.

The business problem

Companies engaged in managing complex assets through time face several information management challenges:

The goal of PLCS was to create an internationally accepted information model - likely to remain valid for several decades - to enable open information exchanges, and necessary data consolidation to address the issues above. This goal is summarized by Figure 1.

Figure 1 —  
        The PLCS Vision.

Figure 1 —   The PLCS Vision.

Origins and participants

The initials "PLCS" were conceived in 1996 but the development of a community of interest with sufficient resources and credibility to develop the standard itself took some time to emerge. Work came to fruition in 1999, customers, suppliers and their system vendors recognized the relevance of STEPISO 10303 - Product data representation and exchange (abbreviation stands for "STandard for the Exchange of Product model data"). A family of standards for product data exchange. See: and provided the impetus around which a not-for-profit company – PLCS, Inc. – was formed to develop ISO 10303-239ISO 10303-239 Industrial automation systems and integration — Product data representation and exchange Part 239: Application protocol: Product life cycle support, See: and as an extension to the ISO 10303ISO 10303 is an ISO standard for the computer-interpretable representation and exchange of industrial product data. Its official title is Industrial automation systems and integration - Product data representation and exchange, and it is also known as STEP or the Standard for the Exchange of Product model data. See:   STEPISO 10303 - Product data representation and exchange (abbreviation stands for "STandard for the Exchange of Product model data"). A family of standards for product data exchange. See: standard. ISO 10303-239 drew heavily from, and contributed to, the work within STEP to develop a harmonized data schema for Product Data Management. ISO 10303-239 was published as a full International Standard in 2005.

Although PLCS, Inc. disbanded in 2004 when the standard was delivered to ISO, work has continued since publication under the PLCS Technical Committee of OASISOrganization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards The move to OASIS was consciously made to engage directly with the wider XML community, and the evolving information technologies used for exchange.

Business scope

The business scope of PLCS changed slightly as the standard developed. The initial PLCS intent, reflected in the logo, was to address four major business functions:

Figure 2 —  PLCS logo

Figure 2 —  PLCS logo

Two changes were made as the program progressed. For most complex products, where safety is an inevitable concern, Configuration Management is the bedrock of through life information management. It was however noted that the information set which requires assurance through life is far larger than that addressed by the (then) existing Configuration ManagementThe activity that establishes and maintains consistency of a product with its requirements and configuration information throughout its life cycle. systems, because it extends beyond the product design to include individual products and the large set of assured support data previously made available as technical documentation, parts catalogues, training material and other information. All of this needs to be related to individual product assemblies if safety – and efficient support – are actually to be delivered. The first function was therefore extended to "Manage product and support information" with the Configuration Change ManagementThe configuration management activity that ensures that changes to product configuration information are properly identified, recorded, evaluated, approved, incorporated, and verified. process at its heart.

The second major change concerned the relationship to the Supply Chain. As work proceeded it became apparent that "resource management" was just one aspect of a wider supply chain process. Several recognized transactional messaging standards already existed to address supply chain requirements – notably OAGIS 9.0 (, RosettaNet and ebXML and a number of domain specific capabilities such as Exostar and Covisint. It was therefore decided to limit the PLCS scope to the generation of a supply demand – which is a natural output from maintenance planning - and the receipt of a supply response. This decision has been vindicated by subsequent events as PLCS and OAGIS 9 have recently been selected by UK MOD as the primary standards of choice for future logistics information.

Components of PLCS

PLCS has three main components:

The business vision has been briefly outlined above. The key concept is the creation, of a single source of truth for assured product and support information, for use across the enterprise. This information will necessarily be created in many different IT systems – CADComputer Aided Design, MRPManufacturing Resource Planning, ERPEnterprise resource planning, FMECAFailure Mode, Effects, and Criticality Analysis, LSARLogistic Support Analysis Record and authoring tools etc. – but, to realize the vision in full, the information needs consolidation to create the necessary explicit links between related items.

This business vision is important because it enables a major improvement in quality and efficiency over typical current practice. Currently, some point-to-point exchange capabilities have been established, but the information required to deliver efficient support typically exists in many different IT systems, used by many organizations for different business functions across different life cycle phases.

Particular difficulties are often found in the gap between the OEM and end-user communities, neither of whom have appropriate access to information created by the other. As a result, information which already exists either has to be re-generated, re-formatted or re-entered manually with a proliferation of errors over time, or managers are forced to make decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information. The impact of information errors and omissions is rarely measured by accountants, but such errors add heavy costs and time delays to every business process.

The second component is the activity model which illustrates the processes and information flows in the PLCS scope. This provides context for potential data exchanges through life, and can be used to identify information interfaces across any chosen functional boundary. Both the vision and the activity model have "informative" status in ISO. Neither is offered or recognized as a basis for claiming "PLCS compliance".

The third and major component of the standard is the Information Model. Written in EXPRESSThe STEP product data specification language. It consists of language elements that allow an unambiguous data definition and specification of constraints on the data defined. Defined in ISO 10303-11. See: - the formal data modelling language used by STEP - but also available as an XML SchemaA schema language developed by W3C, used with XML data files. See, it provides a comprehensive, generic and extensible data model which identifies the key entities, attributes and relationships needed to deliver the PLCS vision. The key concepts in the PLCS information model are shown in Figure 3

Figure 3 —  
        The key concepts in the PLCS information model.

Figure 3 —   The key concepts in the PLCS information model.

Because the model is generic, it must also be extensible. A maintenance task, for example, is modelled as a type of "activity", linked to required resources. By re-classifying the activity as "operational" the same constructs can be used to address product usage or other operational activities, even though these extend beyond the scope of the activity model.

Delivering the value

In assessing the potential value of ISO 10303-239 to any given business it is important to recognize that;

In terms of tactical exploitation, four opportunities present themselves:

Realizing the full PLCS vision across any large enterprise will require sustained investment over several years. Maximum return may be expected when;


PLCS can help your business deliver:

The standards, tools and technology for delivering the PLCS Vision are now in place.